HONOLULU — A groundbreaking missile defense test is expected soon on Kauai that has ramifications for the defense of Hawaii from North Korean ballistic missiles.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is expected to fire a Raytheon SM-3 Block IIA, an enhanced-capability missile co-developed with Japan, from the Aegis Ashore test facility at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
The missile is anticipated to target a mock intermediate-range ballistic missile, but the agency said in June that the SM-3 IIA “could add another layer of defense to Hawaii” for intercontinental-range North Korean missiles.
The government-owned 666-foot Pacific Tracker, which has long-range, high-data-rate telemetry processing systems, was docked next to Aloha Tower on Monday.
The Kauai test comes at a time of heightened awareness of North Korean capabilities following Saturday’s false-alarm ballistic missile warning.
“I am still a staunch believer that Hawaii is underdefended, and maybe what will be tested at Barking Sands is the answer to our problems and an answer to the many prayers that went up all over Hawaii on Jan. 13,” said state Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai).
Ward sent a letter in July to Defense Secretary James Mattis asking him to consider “operationalizing” the Aegis Ashore facility on Kauai, which is used as a test site, for Hawaii’s defense.
Riki Ellison, chairman of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, also maintains Hawaii is underdefended and has pushed for using Aegis Ashore in emergencies or giving the Pearl Harbor destroyer USS John Paul Jones, used as a missile defense test bed, added responsibility as a defense ship for Hawaii.
Missile maker Raytheon said the new SM-3 IIA, expected to be used at Aegis Ashore sites in Japan, Romania and Poland, is initially aimed at shooting down short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
Intermediate-range missiles fly up to 3,400 miles, while intercontinental ballistic missiles are defined as having a greater range. Hawaii is 4,660 miles from North Korea.
U.S. Pacific Command and Navy officials recently said the Kauai Aegis Ashore site is not suited for a defense role because of the current SM-3 1B missile’s limited capabilities. Newer SM-3 IIA missiles have a wider body, fly much faster and have a range of 1,350 miles — more than triple that of the SM-3 1B.
Forty-four ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California defend Hawaii and the mainland against North Korean missiles. However, Hawaii’s closer proximity means an enemy missile would arrive in just 20 minutes and limits what officials call a “shoot, look, shoot” second chance for success.
The ground-based system has a record of 10 intercepts in 18 attempts, or a 56 percent success rate.